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Sophomore Slumps? Bryce Harper and Mike Trout Don’t Think So

Saturday was a big day for the 2012 Major League Baseball Rookies of the Year. National League ROY Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 with two home runs in the Nationals’ win against the Mets and American League ROY Mike Trout had a grand slam that capped a 9-run first inning in the Angels’ win over the Tigers. It’s just more of the same from two of the game’s brightest young stars.

Sophomore Slump
Sophomore Slump

Apr 14, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park./Apr 20, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Mike Trout (27) hits a grand slam against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. – USA Today Sports

Saturday was a big day for the 2012 Major League Baseball Rookies of the Year. National League ROY Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 with two home runs in the Nationals’ win against the Mets and American League ROY Mike Trout had a grand slam that capped a 9-run first inning in the Angels’ win over the Tigers. It’s just more of the same from two of the game’s brightest young stars.

So far in 2013, Harper and Trout are continuing to do what earned them their awards last year. Harper is hitting .339/.391/.627 and has a 26.3% HR/FB rate. All of those numbers are significantly better compared to 2012. Trout, meanwhile, is hitting .297/.343/.484 and just picked up his first home run. While not quite the production he provided last year, it’s hardly terrible.

But shouldn’t these two really be struggling this year? Baseball lore would have you believe that any rookie who has a great freshman season will surely regress the next. It’s called the sophomore slump and it’s in the same vein as the Madden Curse or the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Surely, though, there’s more fiction than fact to this, right? That, while there are some examples of its truth, there are many more instances that prove it wrong?

In 2005, Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times wrote an in depth piece about the history of the sophomore slump. After examining the stats of all 116 Rookie of the Year winners from 1947-2004, he determined that 73 of them, or 64%, had worse seasons in year two than they did in their debut seasons.

That’s nearly two-thirds of all players. So there is clearly some basis for the sophomore slump legend. But the data is also old. Since that article was written there have been 16 more Rookies of the Year. And their numbers seem to show things have changed.

Huston Street

2005: 5-1, 1.72 ERA, 23 saves, 78.1 innings pitched

2006: 4-4, 3.31 ERA, 37 saves, 70.2 innings pitched

Ryan Howard

2005: .288/.356/.567, 22 home runs, 63 RBI, 177 total bases

2006: .313/.425/.659, 58 home runs, 149 RBI, 383 total bases

Justin Verlander

2006: 17-9, 124 strikeouts, 3.63 ERA, 186 innings pitched

2007: 18-6, 183 strikeouts, 3.66 ERA, 201.2 innings pitched

Hanley Ramirez

2006: .292/.353/.480, 17 home runs, 59 RBI, 51 stolen bases, 46 doubles, 128 strikeouts

2007: .332/.386/.562, 29 home runs, 81 RBI, 51 stolen bases, 48 doubles, 95 strikeouts

Dustin Pedroia

2007: .317/.380/.442, 8 home runs, 50 RBI, 39 doubles, 7 stolen bases, 86 runs

2008: .326/.376/.493, 17 home runs, 83 RBI, 54 doubles, 20 stolen bases, 118 runs

Ryan Braun

2007: .324/.370/.634, 34 home runs, 97 RBI, 26 doubles, 91 runs

2008: .285/.335/.553, 37 home runs, 106 RBI, 39 doubles, 92 runs

Evan Longoria

2008: .272/.343/.531, 27 home runs, 85 RBI, 31 doubles, 67 runs

2009: .281/.364/.526, 33 home runs, 113 RBI, 44 doubles, 100 runs

Geovany Soto

2008: .285/.364/.504, 23 home runs, 86 RBI, 35 doubles, 66 runs

2009: .218/.321/.381, 11 home runs, 47 RBI, 19 doubles, 27 runs

Andrew Bailey

2009: 6-3, 1.84 ERA, 26 saves, 83.1 innings pitched

2010: 1-3, 1.47 ERA, 25 saves, 49.0 innings pitched

Chris Coghlan

2009: .321/.390/.460, 9 home runs, 47 RBI, 84 runs

2010: .268/.335/.383, 5 home runs, 28 RBI, 60 runs

Neftali Feliz

2010: 4-3, 2.73 ERA, 40 saves, 69.1 innings pitched

2011: 2-3, 2.74 ERA, 32 saves, 62.1 innings pitched

Buster Posey

2010: .305/.357/.505, 18 home runs, 67 RBI, 58 runs

2011: .284/.368/.389, 4 home runs, 21 RBI, 17 runs

Jeremy Hellickson

2011: 13-10, 2.95 ERA, 117 strikeouts, 189.0 innings pitched

2012: 10-11, 3.10 ERA, 124 strikeouts, 177.0 innings pitched

Craig Kimbrel

2011: 4-3, 2.10 ERA, 46 saves, 77.0 innings pitched

2012: 3-1, 1.01 ERA, 42 saves, 62.2 innings pitched

Based on these numbers, recent Rookies of the Year have seemed to have fared much better than their historical counterparts. There are really only two players who stand out as having much worse seasons in their second year: Soto and Coghlan. Posey didn’t have as good a season, in part, because he played in just 45 games due to injury.

Meanwhile, two players, Pedroia and Howard, won their league’s Most Valuable Player Award in their second season. Everyone else either improved upon their rookie season or performed closely enough to their first year that labeling them a “sophomore slumper” would be inaccurate.

Historical data will never influence what happens with a current player or situation, but it can give an idea on how things tend to go. While much of baseball history may suggest a player could struggle a bit in his second season, more recent performances indicate that could be changing. And if Harper and Trout continue to do what they’ve been doing this year, they could put an end to the “sophomore slump” once and for all.

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